Educators say rankings fail the test

Once again, educators are united in their opposition to the Fraser Institute’s annual report that ranks B.C. elementary schools.

Once again, educators are united in their opposition to the Fraser Institute’s annual report that ranks B.C. elementary schools.

But Peter Cowley, Fraser Institute director of school performance studies, said the report card gives parents a glimpse into their children’s school and shows that improvement is possible in every school, regardless of average parental income.

“And if their child’s school is not improving, or has declined, the report card gives parents the information they can use to ask questions of school administrators and teachers,” said Cowley. “Unfortunately, the teachers’ union doesn’t want parents and B.C. taxpayers to see the report card. The union doesn’t want parents to be able to compare schools based on student assessments, which is why it is battling so hard to halt province-wide standardized testing.”

The Report Card on British Columbia’s Elementary Schools 2011 rates 875 public and private elementary schools across the province based on 10 key indicators, using data from the Foundation Skills Assessment, testing for students in Grades 4 and 7, on reading, writing and numeracy.

Vernon Teachers’ Association president Bruce Cummings said the report does not take all factors into consideration, when a school is being ranked.

“It’s not credible — how do you measure a good school? If you have a school with a lower parental income, those kids don’t have the same advantages. If a child is coming to school hungry, that means a bigger challenge for the teachers, and in fact I would suggest a school like that should rank higher.

“The teachers don’t care about this ranking system, and we’re all working hard.”

B.C. teachers have argued that the FSA tests are not an accurate measure of achievement.

“The Fraser Institute has an agenda and it is to privatize and so anything that makes the public school system look bad, they’ll publicize it, and that’s the unfortunate side of it,” said Cummings. “Principals and vice-principals are not happy with the tests and obviously we’re not, partly the misuse and it’s a waste of time, it doesn’t help individual students.”

District superintendent Bev Rundell said she does not have any issues with the FSA test, it’s the way in which the Fraser Institute uses the results.

“As a public education system, we should be demonstrating how our students are learning,” she said. “We object to the misuse of that data to rank schools. We don’t rank our schools when we get that data, it’s a snapshot of how our district is doing.”

The report indicates that Hillview elementary, ranked 720 out of 875 schools, has shown an improvement over last year, from 3.3 to 4.3, while BX has gone down from 5.9 to 4.8. Top-ranked school in the district is Coldstream, which dipped to 7.3 from last year’s ranking of 7.7. The lowest-ranked school for the district is Alexis Park at 3.2, an improvement over last year’s rating of 2.7.

In the North Okanagan-Shuswap District, Highland Park increased from 5.6 to 5.7, while Armstrong elementary went down from 5.6 to 5.2. M.V. Beattie in Enderby went up to 4.9 from last year’s 3.7.

But Rundell said it’s unfair to rank a school based solely on the results of the FSA test, and that the data does little to determine how well students are doing.

“It is disheartening, we see how hard they work, and this does not add value to the education system,” she said.

Rundell said the report doesn’t take into account a number of variables, such as a school with a more transient population.

“At some schools, 24 students were tested, and if four don’t do very well, how does that skew the results?”

To educators in this district, Rundell said it’s more important to look at where students are struggling, and what can be done to improve their success in school.

“We go deeper than the ranking, with programs such as One to One, schools are doing after-school reading programs, so we do a very good job in our school system.”

The entire Fraser Institute Report can be viewed at www.compareschoolrankings.org

Vernon Morning Star